Kenyan residents are now able to access a new free-to-use mobile application that acts as an early warning system for severe storm events throughout the country.
Working in partnership with the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD), scientists at the University of Leeds and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) were able to develop the Forecasting African STorms Application (FASTA) by drawing on nowcasting techniques, enabling meteorologists to provide accurate forecasts of storm weather developing over the coming hours.
Across much of Africa, intense rainfall events are damaging to agriculture and can be especially devastating for farmers. In severe cases, storms can also lead to fatalities, such as on Lake Victoria where thousands of fishers drown every year when their boats capsize in heavy weather. Intense rainfall events are predicted to increase in frequency due to climate change, heightening the threat to African communities.
Although nowcasting has been widely used in the USA, Europe and Asia, much of Africa does not possess the radar rainfall coverage that nowcasting systems rely upon. Instead, scientists have developed techniques to predict the behavior of storms using satellite data. FASTA users can also be alerted to any storms predicted to reach their location.
Doug Parker, FASTA director and professor of meteorology at NCAS and the University of Leeds, said, “Recent projects have shown how short-term warnings sent by the national weather services can save hundreds of lives a year on Lake Victoria. The FASTA app will put this kind of information in the hands of the users, for the first time.”
Bernard Chanzu, deputy director at KMD and leader of forecasting services, said, “Through our collaboration with FASTA, the KMD will be able to bring accurate real-time weather information to users in a mobile app for the first time.”
The app is the culmination of research carried out by scientists involved in the GCRF African SWIFT project to develop techniques for better and more accurate forecasting of severe weather in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
FASTA makes use of the information from satellite data provided by EUMETSAT, the European operational satellite agency for monitoring weather, climate and the environment from space. The nowcasting products were developed by EUMETSAT’s Nowcasting Satellite Applications Facility.
For the first few months following the launch, the app will be in an open testing phase to gather feedback for users and inform any further development of the service.
Although the app is initially being launched in Kenya, the FASTA team is hoping to collaborate with national weather services across other African countries in the future.